As Europe’s Refugee Crisis Mounts, Ai Weiwei Brings Massive Lifeboat Installation to Prague
The inflatable artwork is 230 feet long.
At his upcoming exhibition at Prague’s National Gallery, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei continues his investigation into the European refugee crisis. A refugee himself, Ai’s latest body of work has preoccupied him since the onset of the mass migration of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa for Europe in 2015.
The exhibition, titled “Law of the Journey,” takes place against the backdrop of an Austrian proposal to cut European Union subsidies to member states refusing to participate in the EU’s refugee relocation program. According to Sputnik News, the Czech Republic has been reluctant to accept refugees from Italy and Greece in recent weeks.
“In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis,” Ai said in a statement. “There’s no refugee crisis, but only human crisis… In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values.”
The centerpiece, a 230-foot-long inflatable boat filled with 258 faceless figures, references the often-overcrowded mode of transport for the perilous route desperate migrants undertake to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
Ai spent time visiting several informal migrant and refugee camps around the world, including the frontline of the European refugee crisis in countries such as Greece, as well as settlements along the Turkish-Syrian border. He also spent time at migrant centers on the US-Mexican border.
Accompanying the work are a number of Ai’s previous works, including Laundromat (2016) a collection of garments collected by the artist from the Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece, which illustrates the scale of dispossession and displacement.
The upcoming exhibition follows several high-profile shows by the artist inspired by the plight of migrants and refugees, which have included decorating the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 orange life jackets collected in Lesbos, and a similar project at Austria’s Belvedere Museum.
“Ai Weiwei: Law of the Journey,” is on view at the National Gallery of Prague, Veletržní palác, Dukelských hrdinů 47, Prague, March 17, 2017–July 1, 2018.
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